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An Interview with Lester Karlin

By Zach Rice
April 21, 2011

The Virginia Tech football program has been known for consistency whether it is winning in the Atlantic Coast Conference or a relatively low turnover among assistant coaches over the years. Clearly, though, the most steadfast member of the program is the equipment manager, who has been around since the days when Bill Dooley was coach.

Lester Karlin has been the equipment manager at Virginia Tech since 1978. In that time, he has seen the school rise from a virtue unknown to a team that contends each year for the ACC championship and a BCS Bowl bid.

Karlin worked as a student manager in high school. He also worked as a student manager with Virginia Tech in the early 1970s. He also worked as an equipment manager with the Houston Texans who became the Shreveport Steamers in the World Football League in 1974 and 1975 before the league folded.

You can find Karlin in the basement of Cassell Coliseum with one window looking at in the lobby of his office and the other window looking a vast amount of cubbies full of shoulder pads and helmets of the Virginia Tech football players.

Q: I read online you were an equipment manager in high school? What would you say made you want to be an equipment manager?

Karlin: Yes. Well I just saw some guys running track and I figured that I was probably bit too slow. So I just thought I would ask the coach could I help them out and he said yeah.

Q: You also went to school here and were an equipment manager here?

Karlin: Yeah, I was a student here for three years after junior college. I was a student manager here in the same room in the 1970s.

Q: How did your time then help you prepare for now?

Karlin: Well, you know you learn a lot of things, you know. It’s a lot of hard work, long hours, and things like that.

Q: You were in the World Football League?

Karlin: Yeah, that was back in 1974, 1975 after I graduated. I over was with Houston for a while, then in the middle of the night we moved over to Shreveport. We had just played a game in Birmingham, Ala., and we had a team meeting. This was about 12 o’clock at night. I had the equipment truck, so I drove it on to Shreveport.

Q: How would you say your time was there?

Karlin: I learned a lot. I had a good mentor by the name of Jim Allen. He was a volunteer assistant with the Houston Oilers. He was a paid fireman for the city of Houston. He was the head equipment guy and I learned a lot from here.

Q: You came back to Virginia Tech with Coach Bill Dooley?

Karlin: Yeah, Bill Dooley hired me back in 1978.

Q: From the time you started until now what would you say is the best innovation in football equipment?

Karlin: Probably the helmets. It’s come a long way from the hard padded helmet that they had back in the 1970s to the air-filled ones now.

Q: Would you say that the Revolution helmets are the safest helmets or is there a safer helmet than the Revolution?

Karlin: I’m a Riddell guy, so I am a sort of prejudiced. I think it’s one of the safest helmets and it’s easy to deal with maintenancewise.

Q: What is the most difficult piece of equipment that you have to work with on a daily basis?

Karlin: I don’t think that there is anything hard to work with because you are talking about shoulder pads, helmets, shoes basically, and you don’t do anything with the shoes.

Q: How do you feel about alternate uniforms?

Karlin: They are pretty good once in a while.

Q: Do you think teams like Oregon are ridiculous when they have 512 uniform combinations on any given day?

Karlin: I really don’t know how many they have. But they are up there near Nike, and they try a lot of things with them. We test a lot of things with Nike also. If the guy wants to give them free uniforms, that’s great.

Q: What is your day like on a normal day?

Karlin: Normal day it’s 8 a.m. to 7 p.m. I’ve got two grad students that work for me, and eight undergrads students, they work all over, they just work with football. They take a big load off me. During the season, it’s probably 7 in the morning to 8:30 p.m. Depends on what’s going on; you have the weekends working also.

Q: How is it different during game day?

Karlin; Well, we get here early; we set up the two coaches' locker rooms and the players' locker room. It takes about two hours to do all that. We make it really nice before the players walk in. We make it nice and neat, helmets are polished, and everything is ready to go.

Q: How does that differ for a road trip?

Karlin: Well, we really do the same thing. My graduate assistants go a day early and set everything up, and we come in four hours before game time, and set everything up.

Q: What would you say is the best part of the job?

Karlin: Well, you know, you see these guys come in as freshmen and you see them graduate. Some of them go in the NFL; some of them just go into business or whatever field they’re in. You know a lot of them come back and visit. It’s nice, players change a lot once they get in to the real world.

Q: Last question: what is your most memorable moment since you been here?

Karlin: Well, there are two. Obviously playing in the National Championship against Florida State, but I think at the Sugar Bowl where we beat Texas, in 1995. I mean that was our biggest win. I think that’s what put Virginia Tech on the map.